Equality: When Everyone Gets a Prize, Everyone Gets Nothing
Equality and Diversity In One Universe
A legion of voices shouts for equality.
While humans are worthy of equal rights, not all display the same talents and aptitudes. Because of this diversity, a byword for 30+ years because of our quest for that as well, everyone will not win the same brand or magnitude of praises, recognitions, award certificates, merit badges, promotions, pay raises, Nobel Prizes, Orders of the Falcon, Russian Medals of Merit, Orders of the British Empire, etc. At least that is true for many adults in the larger segments of American society.
Despite a large portion of the American public's striving for both equality and diversity, mediocrity is sometimes rewarded at the same rate and magnitude as excellence in order to ensure a type of equality that serves no one.
Among some groups that reward mediocrity, achievers become discouraged and feel punished for doing well. They stop doing well. Some begin performing at a level below mediocrity and lose their jobs or fail school. Thus, they are punished for doing badly and punished in a different way for doing well.
The Medal of High Achievement
Literary References and the 21st Century
A book and a short story come to mind at the mention of equality and awards:
- Animal Farm by George Orwell,and
- Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.
In the book Animal Farm, an old veteran pig dreams of a society in which all animals are equal and maintain their equality through consistent hard work and erasure of economic class and color lines (similar to the idea of the Soviet proletariat and "Workers of the World, Unite!"). In the short story Harrison Bergeron, the US Department of Handicappers creates a type of negative equality by forcing the more intelligent, attractive, strong, creative, innovative, etc. members of society to wear machines and weights that diminish their abilities to that of the Citizens at the lowest point on those scales.
Do these things occur in American society? -- To a degree, yes.
We may leave high school believing that the hardest workers and the A and B students will receive the best job offers, promotions, and pay raises; but, we often find that this is not the case. One must "fit in" with the company culture and fulfill other intangible conditions as well as to work with visible and measurable production results, help to raise the Bottom Line, increase the customer base, and other tangibles.
Idi Amin probably had too many medals.
In childhood, some students in the USA in the same classroom may all receive the same awards for achievement or for none, but the World of Work does not offer that system usually. This is a surprise and one that hurts.
Some workplaces and even social clubs are becoming filled with cacophonies of adult voices complaining that Ms. So-and-so does not deserve such-and-such award, promotion, or sales prize. The voices become louder, if a manager praises a worker in the open. In extreme cases of envy, that worker may receive prank phone calls, threatening or pornographic emails, and even a death threat.
The successful are sometimes bullied.
The less sucessful sometimes shout that they are ignored or oppressed because they are "too good."
It is a complicated society.
It has been true that the bulk of some groups try to bring back or hold back a member that tries to improve his or her life and move on to another group or independence. This is true of many GED classes, inlcuding those I taught for several years. However, in the early 2010s, some work groups and social groups alike seem to be violently and increasingly opposed to any member receiving positive attention.
Envy is even sometimes disguised as claims that awards and rankings are "divisive."
The Tuskegee Airmen - Well Deserved Belated Awards
How About Young Children?
In some US facilitities designed for young children in Pre-K3 through 5th grade, schools, sports clubs, and other outfits award all children materially for taking part in activities. These groups award the same certificates and trophies to all, no matter the actual achievements or lack thereof. For the youngest ages - 3, 4, and 5 - this may be OK; perhaps not for anyone older.
Children that go on to World Class and Olympic Class gymnastics training receive a shock equal in their minds to a nuclear event -- They are told the truth and instructed to improve where necessary.
Not everyone wins. Children become adults, enter the workplace, and most employers are as demanding as the former gymnatics coaches were. In fact, under the concept of Continuous Improvement (CI) instituted in business in the late 1980s - 1990s, workers are expected to do much more than show up on time and do the basic tasks of the job.
Workers used to receive raises for showing up on time, completing minimum tasks, and being at their desks or stations for the required time periods during the day. However, that tradition crashed earlier than the opening of the CI gateway. Giving awards for no reason is misleading and can lead to adult disappointment.
Giving the same award to everyone all the time is not wise in the long run, because it is a system of giving everyone nothing - nothing special. However, a few companies manipulate workers by giving awards to employees that do not deserve them, rather than to those that positively impact the business. In fact, some top achievers are ignored or penalized in a small way as well. Leaders that do all this claim that it sparks competition and increases the Bottom Line. Does it? I think it causes workers to seek other employment.
Age 6 is probably a good milestone at which to defrock the fairytale godmother of Same Awards for Everyone, for she is a phantom.
It might be a good idea for parents and teachers to begin talking to children before the 1st Grade about awards and how to actually earn them, making the requirements clear and offering constructive help - but not doing the work for the children.
Word On the Street
- Kids Know Awards for Everyone are Stupid. Because They're not Stupid.
Effie: "Condescending" - "Yes! ...Adults do this thing where they go up to a little kid and say, “Wooowwww! Goood jooobbb!!!” And it’s so irritating. It’s like, just be normal. I mean, that’s not how you talk to kids. You just say, “Hey, good job.”
- Awards for everyone, for anything - Hartford Parenting Issues | Examiner.com
Recently I attended the monthly assembly at my children’s elementary school. After the entertaining musical numbers and delightful acting skits concluded, the
- End of the Year Awards- Ideas for Award for All
It's fun to reward your students at the end of a long year. Here's a collection of academic and non-academic awards, as well as some fun
- Michael Sigman: When Everyone Gets a Trophy, No One Wins
The nation has become a self-parodic reflection of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon: thanks to collusion between parents and educators, the vast majority of all private school children are virtually guaranteed to be above average.
Lake Wobegone, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.
-- Garrison Keillor, A Prairie Home Companion
To me, the quotation above is an idyllic reference, one that light-heartedly wishes there were such a place with such people
Lake Wobegon Trail MN
Lake Wobegon Tales
I don't think we want to become a nation behaving like the USSR of the past, mollifying citizens with awards to distract them from real inequalities of low wages and imposed starvation -- The teachers and railroad engineers in Siberia (see map above) were not paid their salaries at all during one two-year stretch in the late 1980s; but citizens wore their consolation-prize award medals proudly every day.
It seems that many people like awards, want awards, and may go to extremes to obtain awards. They may even complain about others' awards and in extreme cases, seek to have them revoked.
Reality In the Workplace
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